Character Interview Questions

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons & Horia Varlan.

Because I’ve gotten horrible at keeping all of my writing files in one organized folder (I’m working on it, I promise!), I was unable to post interview questions a few days ago when I wrote the initial entry on character interviews. I’ve located my “master list” of questions that I use when developing characters and have created a PDF for anyone who may be interested.

You can download it here.

You don’t have to use all of the questions. I rarely do. Pick and choose what works best for the character you’re writing. Make different lists from the questions if you want to. The key is to find the set of questions that will help you learn the most about your characters. It’s a trial and error process at first, but it’s gets easier as you go along.

Related Post: Character Interviews & Why You Should use Them

[If you try the questions I’ve posted, please let me know how they worked for you. Leave a comment. You can email me, too!]

Quotes Corner: Ernest Hemingway

With such plagues as writers block and lack of motivation constantly lurking around every corner, quotes from other writers (who have most likely dealt with these same problems) can be a saving grace of sorts for the rest of us. Hence the reasoning behind the creation of “Quotes Corner.”Certain weeks may be themed (by author), while others may be random.

Writers need inspiration, and need it often. It is my hope that you’ll find some here.

  • “A serious writer is not to be confounded with a solemn writer. A serious writer may be a hawk or a buzzard or even a popinjay, but a solemn writer is always a bloody owl.”
  • “All good books have one thing in common – they are truer than if they had really happened.”
  • “A man’s got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book.”
  • Courage is grace under pressure.”
  • “For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.”
  • “I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”
  • “I never had to choose a subject – my subject rather chose me.”
  • “If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.”
  • “It’s none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
  • “There are events which are so great that if a writer has participated in them his obligation is to write truly rather than assume the presumption of altering them with invention.”

[Were these quotes helpful? Is there anyone you’d like to see here? What inspires you the most? Let me know in the comments.]

Writing Prompt: An Interesting Message

Photo courtesy of Rennet Stowe.

Writers block, defined as “a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work,” is a plague that we’ve all dealt with at one point or another in our writing careers. Ideas are hard to come by sometimes. Ideas are like fireflies; they flash in and out of vision, but are hard to catch.

Keeping this in mind, a writing prompt will be offered here every Sunday (in different formats, of course). The length of what you write is your decision entirely. It is my hope that these prompts will spark creativity and kickstart the writing process.

This week’s prompt: You come home from a late night at work and check your phone messages. You get to the third message and freeze. Begin from there.

[How did this prompt help you? Please feel free to let me know in the comments below, or send an email!]

Guest Post: Joel Heffner: 25 Down to Earth Writing Tips

[This post originally appeared on Joel Heffner’s website/blog on Jul 18, 2010 and is re-posted here with permission. The original post can be seen here. Joel Heffner is a writer, speaker, and creativity consultant. He is the creator of The Story Starter (http://www.thestorystarter.com). You can find him at http://www.joelheffner.com and @JoelHeffner on Twitter.]

25 Down to Earth Writing Tips

  1. Do not blame anyone for your mistakes and failures. — Bernard Baruch
  2. Switch your point of view. Would that make your story better?
  3. You can restart your life right now! If you weren’t a writer yesterday, you can be a writer starting right now!
  4. Life begins every second. Don’t waste time thinking about it, start writing.
  5. To be creative, you might want to do things the un-techie way (for example, postcards instead of emails).
  6. Start your next short story by writing the last line…first.
  7. Go for perfect! Book writing has never been easier. Years ago, when I had to change a word I had to re-type (with a typewriter) the whole chapter.
  8. Can you tell your “story” using a series of pictures (with and/or without captions)?
  9. Try writing a short story that incorporates a line from http://thestorystarter.com.
  10. Follow less, lead more.
  11. Watch less TV and write more.
  12. All of the writers on the best sellers lists had (and probably still have) the same doubts as you.
  13. Read a magazine you never read before. It’s full of ideas…for writers.
  14. Starting a sentence with an “ing” word is a great way to start.
  15. Whenever you want to say “someday” substitute “today” and you’ll do better.
  16. Many procrastinators masquerade as writers. If you want to be a writer…write. Period.
  17. Gardeners will tell you that you have to be patient to see the fruits of your hard work…sometimes years!
  18. Get a 2010 almanac! Read through it when you have time. You might (probably will) come up with story ideas.
  19. Fine writing, like fine wine, doesn’t happen over night.
  20. If you can write a 5 paragraph composition, you can write a magazine article. Same thing…just a bit longer.
  21. Does your character transform for the better or worse? What would happen if you switched it?
  22. You can learn more going to a place you’ve never been than spending hours online. It must be the air!
  23. Going to the movies is nice…reading a movie script gives you a sense of how the story comes together.
  24. To learn how to write, study gardeners, photographers, poker players, pizza makers, etc. Learn from everyone.
  25. Just like the tango, it takes TWO to write…one writer and at least one other person to read. I’m not big on writing for myself.

Quotes Corner: Edgar Allan Poe

With such plagues as writers block and lack of motivation constantly lurking around every corner, quotes from other writers (who have most likely dealt with these same problems) can be a saving grace of sorts for the rest of us. Hence the reasoning behind the creation of “Quotes Corner.”Certain weeks may be themed (by author), while others may be random. Many will be writing-related, others may not be.

Writers need inspiration, and need it often. It is my hope that you’ll find some here.

  • “It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic.”
  • “In our endeavors to recall to memory something long forgotten, we often find ourselves upon the very verge of remembrance, without being able, in the end, to remember.”
  • “They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.”
  • “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”
  • “Experience has shown, and a true philosophy will always show, that a vast, perhaps the larger portion of the truth arises from the seemingly irrelevant.”
  • “I would define, in brief, the poetry of words as the rhythmical creation of Beauty.”
  • “In criticism I will be bold, and as sternly, absolutely just with friend and foe. From this purpose nothing shall turn me.”
  • “With me poetry has not been a purpose, but a passion.”
  • “Never to suffer would have been never to have been blessed.”
  • “The true genius shudders at incompleteness – and usually prefers silence to saying something which is not everything it should be.”

[Were these quotes helpful? Is there anyone you’d like to see here? What inspires you the most? Let me know in the comments.]

Novel Progress: An Experiment of Sorts

I had originally planned to reserve Wednesday’s blog posts for news about my own writing and novel progress. I don’t plan to deviate from this too often and will only do so if I have absolutely no news or information. This kind of post may be a work-in-progress for a few weeks until things get rolling again, but it’ll become more structured as I start writing more often.

  • That being said, it’s pretty obvious that I haven’t worked on the novel itself since mid-May. I have done some researching and additional reading for it, though. I’ve been jotting notes here and there and really should be keeping them all in a notebook (which I will do eventually, I promise), but for now, they’re scattered everywhere.
  • I’m currently re-reading “Columbine” by Dave Cullen. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Nonfiction on the Columbine incident. My first time through was jarring, not because of the writing or anything like that. It was because of how factually interesting the entire book was. I picked it up back in April because I thought it would give me a bit of insight into school shootings. The book offered so much more than that. I won’t go into details here because I plan to review this book after I finish reading it again, but I do recommend picking it up. It’s a fast read and oh so interesting!
  • Topics I am continuing research on include psychopathology, writing as healing, PTSD, and there’s also been a bit of research on firearms and pipe bombs (expressly for further structuring of one of my main characters and nothing more). I’ve found so much that’s it’s hard to sift through and try to process everything. I don’t think I could ever use all of the information, but it’s nice to have it all.
  • Later chapters are still being planned/outlined. I’ve written through six, all of which will be revised again countless times, I’m sure. Revision is a large part of the process, after all.
  • I’m also toying with a new title for the work. I’m not sure if “Forward Together” will continue to fit as I move on with writing. I have a few other ideas, but I feel like those would only fit if the story was written through Andrew instead of Jackson.

There is much more to talk about, but rather than spew it all in entries such as this, I’m hoping to add structure and hopefully put much of what I’d like to say into separate entries. We’ll see how it all turns out. That is one of the fun things about just starting out–the trial and error process.

[Are you working on a novel right now, too? How are you handling the process? Sound off in the comments!]

Notes on Event and Meaning in Scenes

In early 2009 I was taking a graduate workshop in fiction from the online MFA program at National University in La Jolla, California. One of the books I needed for that course was “Writers Workshop in a Book: The Squaw Valley Community of Writers on the Art of Fiction” edited by Alan Cheuse and Lisa Alvarez. The essays in this collection include topics ranging from writing a historical novel to sense of place and point of view. Authors include Amy Tan, Michael Chabon, and Sandra Scofield among others.

I’ve been re-reading this book lately (it’s so helpful), and took some notes from one of my favorite essays, ” Event and Meaning in the Scene” by Sandra Scofield. Writing enough relevant “event” into a scene is something that I struggle with now and then, so when re-reading this essay, I did some highlighting and took some notes. I’d like to share some of those with you here.

  • Scenes lay the groundwork for something that has already happened or something that will happen. The story is always moved along by each scene and it’s impact is an emotional one for readers.
  • Regarding event, Scofield says, “Event does not have to be huge, but it does have to be important enough to merit the attention of the scene … Keep in mind that ‘event’ is the sum of the scene’s actions, which can be spelled out in steps or ‘beats’. This happens, then this happens; it all adds up at a crucial turnpoint.”
  • One of the biggest things to remember is that at the end of a scene, readers should not feel like they are back at square one. Scenes and the events in them need to move the story forward.
  • Movement and meaning within scenes is what makes readers keep reading.
  • To make movement and meaning stand out in your scenes, Scofield says, “Start by closely reading scenes in stories and novels you admire. Choose scenes that stand out in the narrative with an identifiable structure of beginning, middle, and end … Identify the occasion for the story (why are these characters in place doing these things?), the event of the scene, and the consequence of the event, with its emotional reverberations.”

[Were these notes helpful? How do you make sure to include enough event/meaning in your writing? Share your methods in the comments!]

Story in a Novel

If a writer remembers one thing, it should be that plot and story are not the same thing. Regina Brooks, author of “Writing Great Books for Young Adults,” defines story as “the full sequence of events in a work of fiction as the reader imagines them to have taken place, in the order in which they would have occurred in life.”

Two different types of stories exist in fiction writing, plot-driven stories and character-driven stories.

  • Plot-driven: In a plot-driven story, the pre-determined story line is the main focus. The behaviors/actions of the characters revolve around what the events in the plot that lead up to the climax in the story.
  • Character-driven: In a character-driven story, the characters and their actions are the main focus and help to moved the plot along. This type of story involves a lot of emotion, internal conflict, and revolves around character behavior. The character-driven story has a high point of a character realizing something about him/herself (usually a weakness or overbearing problem) and then deciding to fix/overcome it.

The kind of novel/story you are writing and your intended audience will almost always determine which of these two story types you will use. Novels/stories written for young adults are almost always plot-driven, whereas things written for an adult audience are character-driven. I imagine this is not always the case, however.

[Have you come across plot-driven books for adults? What about character-driven stories for young adults? Share with me in the comments!]

Writing Prompt: Survival in a New Life

Writers block, defined as “a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work,” is a plague that we’ve all dealt with at one point or another in our writing careers. Ideas are hard to come by sometimes. Ideas are like fireflies; they flit in and out of mental vision, but they are hard to catch.

Keeping this in mind, a writing prompt will be offered here every Sunday (in different formats, of course). The length of what you write is your decision entirely. It is my hope that these prompts will spark creativity and kickstart the writing process.

This week’s prompt: A young girl in the 18th century is an herbal healer. She is well respected because her cures work, and she is friends with everyone in the community. Yet when it is revealed that she is a witch, she is ostracized and is forced to leave town or face death. The story would be one of her survival in a new life.

[How did this prompt help you? Please feel free to let me know in the comments below, or send an email!]

Reinvention

I am re-starting  again. It will be different. The impetus for posts is the same: the things that come into my life that interest me, spark some sort of curiosity, that I want to talk about and share. (Mostly writing related, of course, but there may be other things.) I realize now the problem with the way I posted before was in how epic I needed the posts to be when getting across my point. I would have to sit down and compose an essay explaining my ideas, and it always ended disastrously. Yeah, it took too much time. So much time that the majority of the ideas for my posts would never see their way to completion. I was over the idea before it got to the blog, and another, more intriguing idea would be consuming my mind.

So what to do about this problem.

The blog has been sitting nearly dormant for some time now. And that doesn’t feel right either. I need deadlines. I need to be concise. I want more of my ideas to make it to the publishing step. A Novel Pursuit will be structured on the idea that I will post something writing related each day. There may or may not be additional commentary. The things I write about may be based directly on personal experiences or based on something different entirely.

This isn’t a resolution. Resolutions are crutches for people who can’t resolve their problems when they arise. I would hope that a person would be able to make ongoing resolutions throughout the year, when it makes sense for him/her to do so, not when the mass of society is doing the same inane task.

No, A Novel Pursuit is spurred by the same catharsis from its inception: that when after you have wrestled and wrestled with something in your life, all you can do is let go, give into it. To make the best of the future you might have to disregard the tragic past and make things work, because they have to. Make it stupid, banal; turn it around and make it work for yourself. Really, there is no choice involved. Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

That is what will happen here. “Bleeding.” From the heart and from the soul, through the hands and hopefully, with any luck at all, into the hands of others.